A number of senior staff at City Hall have been accused of securing affordable social housing – despite earning in excess of the income limits – and of ‘cherry-picking’ high-spec homes destined for people on the waiting list.
In one case, an employee allegedly secured an affordable house in an estate on the east side of the city – despite earning around twice the income limit and already owning a home – which is now rented out.
Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh raised the claims in the Seanad this week, and said he will be passing on the documentation he has to the Gardaí and to the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government.
It’s believed the City Council is already trawling through files from its Housing Department. A spokesperson said the allegations were “very serious” and are being considered by the local authority.
The Housing Minister was asked to investigate the claims made in the Seanad this week by Senator Ó Clochartaigh that several Council employees were given social housing, despite not meeting criteria, and this was done for their personal gain at a cost to the taxpayer.
His claims come despite an assurance by City Council Chief Executive Brendan McGrath in 2014 that a case being investigated at that point – involving two senior staff members and a house in Leargán on the Western Distributor Road – was a “one off” case. That case was first revealed by the Galway City Tribune in May 2014.
In the Seanad yesterday (Thursday), Minister Simon Coveney was represented by Minister of State, Damien English – Senator Ó Clochartaigh called for an investigation into the allegations “that officials in Galway City Council abused the Affordable Social Housing scheme for personal gain”.
“I have been given documentation which suggests that a senior management official with Galway City Council was allocated a house by another council official under the Affordable Housing Scheme and that he was not eligible for this.
“It is claimed the income limit for this scheme was €36,500, his income would have been double that and should have deemed him ineligible for the scheme.
“It is being asserted that the official in question has since retired, receiving a pension lump sum and it is claimed that he had already had a primary residence prior to purchasing this house and that this new house is now being rented out.
“I am told that a number of other senior officials also acquired houses, which are essentially assets of the taxpayer, and they would appear to have profited financially in that the houses have risen dramatically in value, accruing them a significant dividend at the cost of the taxpayer,” said Senator Ó Clochartaigh.
Minister English replied that Minister Coveney has no role in the day-to-day operation of local authorities, and that it would be a matter for the Council internally in the first instance.
However, he added that the information which the senator claimed to have was “very, very serious” and asked for it to be passed to the Department. He said he could also contact the Gardaí if he felt it necessary.
Speaking afterwards, the Senator said: “It was not a very engaging answer, there doesn’t seem to be any guidelines in place to deal with such serious matters. I have no option but to pass on what I know to the Department, and will probably forward it to the Gardaí.”
A spokesperson for the City Council said: “We are aware of the speeches made by Senator Ó Clochartaigh in the Seanad. There were very serious allegations and Galway City Council is considering these and have nothing further to say on the matter at this point.”